Jay Novacek sprinted through the halls Monday morning at Olathe Northwest with an unsettling sense of familiarity.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
It was nearly two years ago to the day that a 911 call had come to the school’s main office, and Novacek, the Ravens’ athletic director, made the same mad dash to Mike Grove’s office.
“You’ve got to take this call,” Novacek said, just as he had in early February 2011 when Grove’s oldest daughter, Mary, was hospitalized with pulmonary arterial hypertension, a potentially fatal condition that restricts blood flow from the heart to the lungs.
Monday’s news was more devastating. Mary had died – likely due to complications from the disease.
“I struggle with seeing his face both times,” Novacek said. “I got the call to him at 7:45 Monday morning. He was at work like any other Monday, but I was blown away when he texted me at 9:09 and said, ‘Mary’s gone to heaven.’ ”
Mary was a miracle in many ways for Grove, who has been the Ravens’ boys basketball coach for a decade, and his wife, Kelly.
She was born with cytomegalovirus, a relatively common infection that goes unnoticed in most people. But it can have devastating consequences for newborns and others with weakened immune systems.
Mary’s complications from the virus included poor liver function and significant brain calcifications.
“We were told that she wouldn’t live very long and, if she did live, we were told she probably — because of the calcifications in her brain — would live in a vegetative state,” Grove said.
Doctors underestimated Mary’s fighting spirit. She struggled to gain weight for a few months, but eventually turned the corner.
She was always turning corners.
“She had some developmental delays because of the process, but ultimately the virus, which was supposed to take her life, only ended up taking her hearing,” Grove said.
The Groves wanted Mary, who turned 18 on Jan. 24, to attend the Kansas School for the Deaf, so the family moved from Webb City, Mo., to Spring Hill, where Grove was an assistant coach before moving on to John McFall’s staff at Olathe South and eventually taking over at Olathe Northwest when the school opened in 2003.
Mary — who also leaves behind two sisters, Cecelia, a freshman at Olathe Northwest, and Katherine, a sixth-grader at St. Paul Catholic School in Olathe — blossomed at the school, which moved to Olathe in 1866.
“There’s no doubt that she was a special gift from God,” Grove said. “She was an 18-year present that just kept giving herself.”
She had grown into a vibrant high school senior, who dreamed of an acting career and planned to attend Gallaudet University next year, as well as a staunch advocate for the deaf.
She spent last weekend in Salt Lake City helping the Kansas School for the Deaf academic team finish third in its regional competition. There was no hint of the heartbreak to come.
“She was a leader and someone that loved life to its fullest,” Grove said. “She loved her church, loved her family, loved her friends and loved being deaf and being an advocate for the deaf. That’s her legacy.”
Mary, whose funeral services were to be held this morning at St. Paul Catholic School, was also doomed by her heart/lung condition.
Grove suspects that the pulmonary arterial hypertension might have been associated with the cytomegalovirus that his daughter had from birth.
“We think might have been associated with the CMV she had from birth,” Grove said.
She had exhibited symptoms of the pulmonary arterial hypertension throughout her life, but they were never bad enough to require an echocardiogram, which is the only diagnostic tool for the disease.
“We were told she’d eventually have to have a double-lung transplant, but we got her home and she just turned the corner again,” Grove said. “The Lord gave us two more years, but He decided it was time for her and He had other plans for her.”
Mary texted her mom that morning, asking for her help fix a small leak in one of the port lines that carry Remodulin to her heart and lungs to dilate the vessels and help blood to flow freely.
“My wife texted her back and said she’d come home,” Grove said. “She got there in about six minutes, but Mary had passed before she got there. It was very swiftly and without pain and suffering. For that, her mom and I and the family are eternally grateful.”
The family will not have an autopsy performed, but Grove said they suspect a blood clot was the culprit.
“She had been in great health,” Grove said. “She came back from Salt Lake City and had a great evening Sunday then Monday morning she was getting ready to go out the door for school and — boom — it just hit her.”
Emergency dispatchers called Olathe Northwest.
Novacek, who first met Grove when the two worked together at Olathe South in the late 1990s, raced through a maze of corridors.
Without explanation, Grove again looked his boss and close friend in the eye, said “get me a sub” and raced for the door.
“It was the same (darn) thing he said to me two years before — exactly,” Novacek said.
Of course, after Monday, things will never be the same again — not for the Grove, who is on an indefinite leave of absence from the Ravens’ basketball team.
Olathe Northwest postponed Tuesday’s game with Shawnee Mission East but will play as scheduled tonight at 7 p.m. at SM Northwest.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.